By JOE LEARY
Special to the BIR
In a stunning surprise the British people have narrowly voted to leave the 28-nation European Union (EU), with the Brexit (short for British exit) campaign winning 51.8 percent of the vote on June 23. Anger against rules issued by distant EU officials, a desire for unfettered British sovereignty, and a strong reaction to migrants from other EU countries were issues well exploited by self-serving, unknowing, right wing politicians hoping to gain from a vote to leave the union.
Very few of the voters or their leaders had any real idea what the impact of their vote would be. It was flag waving and malicious exaggeration at its worst. Distorted claims were made on all sides. And today, most of the world, especially the British and the Europeans, are reeling from the result.
The current prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, announced his resignation the next morning. Stock markets around the world collapsed, with the New York Stock Market losing 610 points, a major drop in value. Regrets, sadness, and anger are being echoed throughout Europe.
Cameron, when he was running for re-election two years ago, promised his adversaries – known as Euroskeptics – that he would hold an election on the question of remaining in the EU if he won. And so, the people of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland were asked to vote as to whether or not they wished to stay in the European community. Even the so-called experts are unsure and confused about the benefits of staying or leaving this amalgam of 28 European countries that has unified more than 500 million people to support each other.
In the wake of two tragic world wars, the European Union, or Common Market, was set up allow the multiple countries of Europe an easier way to trade between each other and to reduce border controls. Britain and Ireland joined the EU in 1973, 43 years ago. Richer nations were to help poorer nations and one look at the new Irish road system shows how smaller nations have benefitted. Ireland’s road system was modernized largely with EU funds.
The problem for many of the British people was how membership in the EU compromised their nation’s sovereignty. They feel they were losing control of their freedom. With the massive refugee problem created by the constant violence in the Middle East, many thousands, encouraged by the EU’s open border policy, made their way into union countries, where, to many, they were not welcome.
During the referendum campaign the two sides of the question tried to scare the population of Britain to vote their way, a strategy not all that dissimilar to what we frequently experience here in our country. But in the Brexit case, there were very few acknowledged facts to justify a vote one way or the other.
It will be several years before we know the full impact of the leave vote, the details of which must be negotiated between British and European leadership. While estimates have been that the leave-taking would take up to two years, over the weekend after the vote, continental leaders have forcefully announced they want to proceed more quickly and concentrate on the servicing of the remaining 27 members of the Union. The intervening months will not be a pleasant time.
There is no doubt that the leave vote will diminish both Britain and Europe, who would be stronger together. The EU could now lose other members now that precedent has been set, so its leadership has vowed to be very tough on Britain’s exit to discourage additional countries to leave. With some 65 million British n the union now, it will best if the sides understand each other.
There are probably tens of thousands of non-British, French, Germans, Polish and other individuals living in Britain under the free travel feature of the current EU. What happens to them? Are they to be sent back to their home countries or will they be allowed to become citizens of Britain. How do you set up a system to handle such transfers?
Britain is a critical member of the NATO defense organization as are most of the significant members of the European Union. Continuing to work together for their own benefit seems a must. The security forces and various police organizations must also continue to work together, an effort that will require good will and good communications that could be difficult as Britain leaves the union.
Already some British officials are worried about losing EU funding. A good example of second thoughts was heard in England’s southwestern district of Cornwall after the results were published. District Council President John Pollard announced he wanted to be assured that Cornwall would not lose any EU funding, which has amounted to millions of pounds in subsidies from the EU for over a decade. Cornwall people voted 56.52 percent to leave and yet still they want the funds. Pollard urgently wants these funds protected in the negotiations to leave. Fat chance!
European countries working together is a strong force facing enemies like Russia, or ISIS, even China. The vote to leave will not help the collective arrangement in place now.